The cost of providing Hawaii government services to Pacific island migrants has more than tripled over the last eight years, according to a state report completed this week.
Retired cook Calvin Nelson says that when he came to Hawaii from Kwajalein, after the United States had seized his home for a new missile range, he was told, “everything will be covered.” Him and thousands of other Micronesian immigrants need the kidney dialysis that kept him alive.
State government expenses to pay for services to migrants from Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau rose to US$115 million last year from US$32 million in 2002, the report said.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie wrote in a Tuesday letter accompanying the report that the state can’t sustain these spending levels without additional support from the federal government.
“Simply put, the state of Hawaii cannot continue to absorb these costs, which can only become greater in impact on our taxpayers. We cannot continue to slash programs and people in order to uphold a federally imposed mandate,” the Democratic governor said in his letter to the US Office of Insular Affairs.
Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau are beneficiaries of the Compact of Free Association. After the US used the Pacific islands for nuclear weapons testing from 1946 to 1958, it agreed in the 1986 pact to provide financial assistance and migration rights in exchange for the right to use defense sites.
People from the areas included in the compact suffer from higher rates of cancer and kidney disease, which come with expensive treatments such as chemotherapy and dialysis.
The federal government provides the state with only US$11 million each year to help the state cover the costs of the US treaty.
“It is not fair for Hawaii to pick up the load, because most citizens of those islands stop over in Hawaii because of ethnic similarities, language similarities, and they feel at home,” said US Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, this week.
“Our costs of every category in health has gone up. The federal government senses that, and we are taking steps now,” Inouye said.
The Office of Insular Affairs is preparing a report due October 1 that evaluates the government’s options. Members of Congress suggested to the OIA in a March letter that the US government could consider establishing dialysis treatment facilities in the Pacific nations and instituting health screenings of potential migrants.
“Right now, they don’t have the proper equipment, proper facilities, and proper personnel,” Inouye said.
Hawaii’s expenses jumped because of increased migration and rising costs of social services, education, and other programs, Abercrombie wrote in his letter.
According to the Hawaii state Department of Human Services, it provided programs including medical assistance, financial aid, and homeless outreach to 20,720 compact migrants last year, a much higher number than the US Census Bureau’s 2008 estimate that there were 12,215 compact residents living in Hawaii, the letter said.
Costs to the department for compact migrant services reached US$52 million last year, and the Department of Education reported spending US$55 million to instruct 5,508 students from compact nations, the report said.
The remaining US$8 million in migrant costs to the state came from government programs including employment readiness training, cultural awareness education, direct health care, health education, intervention services for at-risk children, criminal prosecutions, and inmate incarcerations.